What Should A Brand Community Ultimately Become?
At its most successful, what is your brand community going to become?
Think bigger than you do today. Think about the ultimate role it’s going to play in the lives of
your members. Think about the number of people it’s going to serve. Think about the different ways it’s going to help your organization.
Don’t be afraid to be incredibly ambitious. Ambition can mean different things
It can mean doubling down on what you have, it can mean expansion, it can mean entirely rethinking what community is to your organization.
A simple way of looking at this is in this adaptation of Ansoff’s matrix below:
There are four possible strategies here based on what audience you want to target and how the community helps the company you work for.
We can list these by order of ambition. They are:
- ENGAGE: Increase engagement from existing members.
- EVOLVE: Get better results from existing members.
- EXPAND: Expand to target new and related audiences.
- TRANSFORM: Develop new communities for new value.
1) ENGAGE: Get members more engaged.
The most common strategy is to increase engagement, it’s also the least effective.
Unless you’ve just launched or made a hideous mistake, members are usually participating as much as they’re going to. You can make plenty of tweaks, but you’re always restricted by the law of diminishing returns.
Pursue this strategy when you’re not likely to get support for anything else. Interview two dozen members, find out what brings them to the community, and then cater overwhelmingly to that desire.
If, for example, members visit to resolve problems, the community must provide every person the best possible solution in the quickest amount of time. At the tactical level that means you need to build powerful programs to encourage top experts, teach members to ask better questions, feature the best answers, and tweak the platform relentlessly to get the best results.
The key challenge is to narrow your focus to the few things members really care about and design every activity to make your community the best place to resolve the problem or achieve their goals.
2) EVOLVE: Get More Value From Members
A far better (and more ambitious) option is to expand the nature of the community so it helps other departments.
A customer support community can become a community which helps companies be more successful (customer success), collects insights (ideation), or encourages members to help promote them (advocacy).
A single community can reduce support costs, improve retention, help build better products and attract new customers.
Almost every brand community strategy should at least be trying to expand the ways it helps a business.
You still have the same group of members, only now you’re asking them to make different types of contributions.
This requires you to offer members the chance to earn rewards, gain unique access to you/your company, or build their reputations. The hard part is working internally to make this possible.
The upside is you usually expand the reach of the community to your entire customer base, not just those who have problems today. You give members a reason to visit every day to see who’s new, what’s new, what can they get? What can they learn etc?
The downside is two-fold, there is less of a trigger to visit the community in the first place and it’s a lot harder for people to do these tasks than simply answer a question, proactively share their expertise rather than ask a question.
3) EXPAND: Reach New Audiences
There are plenty of ways to expand to new audiences.
You can expand into new languages, locations, ages, or related audiences. A community for users of your accounting product can become a community for all types of accountants around the world.
Language and geographic regions are usually easiest areas to expand to. You already have the platform and processes in place. Expanding into areas with high numbers of non-English speakers makes sense.
Tackling different audiences is harder. You have to overcome the reason they haven’t joined already. The failure rate for communities targeted at younger audiences is extremely high.
Expanding to fill the broader sector is the most ambitious. Sephora’s BeautyTalk, Lomography, FitBit, and Nike Runner’s Club are all good examples. They’re less about the product and more about the purpose of the product.
You do this to extend community members beyond your current base and bring in new customers. The downside is this usually requires a unique identity beyond just the ‘brandname’ community. There is a limit to how often you can promote yourself too.
4) TRANSFORM: Get new value from new audiences
The most ambitious strategy is to completely transform your company or your approach to the community. This usually comes in three forms.
1) The community becomes a platform/social network for others to build and maintain their own groups/profiles. (StackExchange, BensFriends, HealthUnlocked, DeviantArt, Care2 and others fall into this category).
2) The community becomes a business and acts as a service for members to achieve their goals. Good examples might be TripAdvisor, Kaggle, RealSelf, Rover etc…these communities usually tend to be acquired or spun off into separate businesses.
3) The community runs itself/runs areas of the company. It’s hard to find good brand examples of this. (Eve Online might be a notable mention). Members collaborate together to produce the collective value of the company and divide the spoils. Ideas are sourced by members, driven by members, and implemented by members. The company acts as a support service for the community to flourish (Airbnb has flirted with this along with several Blockchain-based companies).
Most Growth Requires A Big Change
Don’t limit yourself to just trying to deepen engagement with the members you already have. This limits the growth of your community. There are far bigger wins by looking to expand to new types of communities you’re building (customer success, advocacy) or the audiences you’re targeting.
You can achieve some short-term success by focusing on engagement, but the really big wins, the kind of wins which other people take notice of, is by expanding the community to be more useful to more people.
Support and Ambition
An old rule of thumb is the more support you have, the more ambitious you can afford to be. This is half-true. Often the very act of being able to articulate a big, noble, goal is what brings others around to supporting the community idea.
People are more likely to support a community which serves a far bigger audience and drives more results. Even without the support you need, you can still set a lofty goal and work hard to earn that support. It might take years, but at least you’re working towards something that matters.
Build a Multi-Year Roadmap
If you’re worried, again plot this into a roadmap over three years. This might look like:
- Year 0 – 1: Deepen engagement and build support.
- Year 1 to 3: Evolve to customer success, advocacy, and ideation.
- Year 3 to 5: Expand to Latin America and South-East Asia.
- Year 5+: Become a platform for others.
Now you have a vision you can articulate to both your colleagues and members. Something motivating and something which merits your requests for support and resources.
There is a chronic lack of ambition today about what a community can and should become.
It’s never just a place for members to engage with one another. It’s a place to harness the amazing potential of members to the maximum possible effect. You can’t achieve that with a narrow focus on what you’re doing today.
Be ambitious, more ambitious than you’ve dared to be in the past.